Rotherham United v Watford – Safety first for Millers as they start to play catch-up

IT MIGHT – on paper at least – be a night when Rotherham United could theoretically move out of the Championship relegation zone with victory.

BACK IN THE GAME: Rotherham's players celebrate after their win at Sheffield Wednesday on March 3 - their last match. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA

Not that Millers manager Paul Warne will be able to witness the Millers’ return to action after a 13-day break due to Covid-19.

He is self-isolating following an outbreak which has affected ‘more than half’ of his players and staff and will miss the next two games.

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But despite that, Warne does make one promise that transcends tonight’s result.

REMOTE CONTROL: Rotherham United manager Paul Warne will send a video message to his players ahead of tonight's game at home to Watford. Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage

Namely that if any of his affected players – who only returned to training on Monday after the club’s Roundwood facility – do not feel ready, they will not be involved.

Those who start the game and struggle after getting the all-clear to return will also be taken off if needs be, Warne has pledged.

Warne, also forced to self-isolate for two games in October after a family member tested positive, said: “We will not take any risks on any players and if the game starts and any players do not look or feel right, they will be removed straightaway.

“We want to win football games and entertain fans and do everything we can. But not to the detriment of anyone’s health.”

BACK IN THE GAME: Rotherham's players celebrate during their win at Sheffield Wednesday on March 3 - their last match. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA

Warne’s players and squad have prepared for tonight’s game in the loosest sense of the word.

In an ideal world – and certainly if Warne had his way – the game would not take place, with the situation being worse than when the Millers faced Barnsley on December 28 and were severely under-strength due to Covid-19-related absentees and unable to fill the substitute’s bench.

He said: “We had a surreal situation against Barnsley when we came in for one day’s training and then played.

“Obviously, I am protective of the players, club and every point we play for and I was not best pleased we played after one day’s ‘prep’.

“This is exactly the same and the only difference is we’ve been even harder. I say one day’s ‘prep’, but it is just a return to training programme and getting them on the grass and not injuring everyone and letting them have a sweat. A few of my staff are (also) working away from the training ground, which is surreal.”

The club elected not to postpone that game with Barnsley due to a fear of ‘retribution’ from the EFL following previous postponements over Covid-19.

With some players having now completed their quarantine period following the latest spike in cases at the club and the Millers’ last three games having already been postponed, patched-up Rotherham will again take to the field tonight.

As for the potential of asking the EFL to extend the season due to their particular predicament, Warne is pragmatic and realistic.

The Millers must negotiate 14 matches in under a month-and-a-half – factoring in the forthcoming international break.

That crammed schedule is likely to include one four-game week. A case of ‘like it or lump it.’

On asking for an extension, Warne commented: “I have not been told that is in any way an option. I think it is definitely not going to happen because of the Euros (2021) as well and Wembley and the play-offs.

“Everything would have a ‘knock-on’ and I don’t think there would be an appetite for the organisers in the league to do that to suit one club.

“If there were seven or eight of us (clubs) in this similar boat, then maybe. But I do not believe there is an appetite in any way.

“I cannot say I have asked the question as I haven’t. But I also haven’t been encouraged to ask...”

For those rivals at the bottom who believe that the Millers are getting a potential advantage by having many games in hand in the final month of the season, Warne provides his own response.

He added: “It is not something we wanted. Some other clubs may say we are getting an advantage from this, but it is anything but.

“It is a ‘disaster’ for us and I would have rather played two of those four games (in hand) and have another two points as it is.

“I cannot see how it will work but there will be a week where we will play four games in seven or eight days.

“That is obvious as if not, we will not get them all in.”

This evening, Warne will have a watching brief from the garden shed at his home, but his assistant Richie Barker should be back on dug-out duty after completing his own period of isolation.

He will be assisted by goalkeeping coach Andy Warrington, who took training on Monday with senior professionals Shaun MacDonald and Richard Wood. First-team coach Matt Hamshaw is also isolating tonight.

Warne added: “I have full trust in Rich and will try and video message the lads before in terms of what I want and think of them and will try and boost them up.

“The sad thing of not being there is that some of football is logic, science or a gut feeling or a ‘smell’ in the dressing room of something that you feel is not right here.

“You want to express that to them at half-time and after the warm-up or whatever it may be. But not being there, you cannot and that is the hardest thing.”

Last six games: Rotherham LLLLLW; Watford WWLWWW.

Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).

Last time: Rotherham 0 Watford 2, August 19, 2014; Championship.

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